The Monthly interviews Darren Ferguson, CEO of peacebuilding arts based organisation, Beyond Skin, about adapting to Lockdown – Part 2

Part one of this interview is here

Is it possible that when Lockdown ends you will work in a hybrid manner?

We have, for quite some time, been working in a hybrid manner, using digital technology as well as the face to face work. We are working at the moment with Primary Schools offering some material which we have pre-produced and they can see that anytime, as well as going in to the classroom.

One of the vital elements of what Beyond Skin does is allow people that we work with to connect with their global neighbours. It opens up minds, stimulates ideas especially if you are a young students and you are working with a young person from Afghanistan. We are forging international relationships through music and it is something that digital and virtual technology is best utilised

What about the cost of equipment. Is that an obstacle?

I don’t think it is as much of an obstacle as you might think, although it has to be taken into account.

Sometimes you need to think creatively and we have learned a lot from people we have worked with internationally, who often are in a much more difficult situation than we are and yet they manage to find ways to make things happen.

One thing that is important, is to look around at the people we have in our network and on our doorstep,  problem solvers, people who have skills that might be untapped, this can lead to lots of possibilities being available to your organisation. You know you have a strong team when you first agree to something and then turn to your team and say “right how are we going to do this?”  – having that total confidence they can make it happen.

Sometimes a sort of collective creative energy emerges which offers all of us substantial potential.

I think it may have been possible for some organisations to look at the potential to push forward rather than simply close the doors, although obviously venues had very little choice.

Would your project in Afghanistan be a good example of this creative energy?

Yes, that is a very good example. With that project, not only were we up against Covid, but we were also up against The Taliban. I say we – it was our friends in Kabul that really took the risks.  We pulled a team together, we thought carefully through what we had to worry about and what we thought we could achieve, and we went ahead, and it turned out brilliantly. Admittedly I had many a sleepless night of worry about this one. The musicians from the Women’s Orchestra are brave young women. It wasn’t just our project – everyday for them doing music and getting an education is a risk.

Where to now for Beyond Skin?

The international aspect of what we do, currently we have active collaboration projects ongoing in 25 countries. A working timezone hours challenge, my whatsapp is constant 24hrs, but it is also very exciting and very important to provide access to connect with our global neighbours during a time of separation and division.

And speaking of exciting we have just started working with the John Cage Trust, were we will be working on his piece, 4.33, and we will be producing a version of that piece, and there will many international participants along with local people as well.

It has been quite a process dealing with all the hurdles you have to deal with in order to use this piece of music and sound, from publishers and lawyers and the various licences you have to get, but we are there now and the project is going ahead.

And just as a finishing thought, we are able to continue what we do because the Arts Council invested in our core through an emergency fund, they gave us funding which wasn’t project orientated so that we could actually keep our staff and the other things you need to run an organisation so that you are in a position to facilitate projects, provide artists and technicians with work whilst continuing to make a difference.

That really needs to be looked at, how the organisation core is kept healthy by investment in that, otherwise it makes it difficult for project work to be undertaken. The Arts Council fund was the only emergency financial core help we got through the pandemic.

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New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.